3 MVP's. 14 Pro Bowls. 6 Super Bowl crowns. 9 AFC crowns. Over 74,000 passing yards. 541 touchdowns. It wouldn't take long for a football fan to decode the mystery man behind these great accomplishments. In fact, any individual living in the New England region of the United States, which stretches from Connecticut to Maine, would be able to reveal the man if you gave them just one of those clues.
His name is Tom Brady, and for 20 memorable years he entertained these same people in a run that has gone unmatched. He also won. A lot. With 6 championships, which included two separate dynasties (2001, 2003, 2004 and 2014, 2016, 2018), fans of the Patriots saw winning that not only had never happened in their team's history, but the NFL as a whole. But the ride would end, just as soon as it began.
It began crumbling down on December 29, 2019, when the Patriots were upset by the 4-11 Miami Dolphins by a score of 27-24. A game winning pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Mike Gesicki in the end zone with 29 seconds left would do the Patriots in. New England needed the win to earn the first round bye in the playoffs, as the Kansas City Chiefs (tied with the Patriots for second seed) had wrapped up their game against the Chargers. With a Chiefs win and a Patriots loss, Brady would have to play in the Wild Card round, for the first time since 2009.
Six days later, the ride had officially pulled to a stop. The Tennessee Titans, the sixth and last seed in the playoffs, beat the Patriots in Foxborough, 20-13. The defense of New England failed to stop Tennessee's Derrick Henry, who rushed for 182 yards on the night with a score. On the offensive side, Brady, never seemed to find the rhythm he always possessed in the postseason, displaying a QBR of 59.4, the fifth-lowest of his 41 career playoff games. Down by a point with 15 seconds to play, Brady threw an interception to former Patriot Logan Ryan who returned it for a score, pushing Tennessee's lead further, and advancing them to the divisional round. It would be Brady's last pass in New England.
With the 2019 season over, Brady officially became a free agent, and he would end his 20 year relationship with the Patriots on March 20, signing a two-year, $60 million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
While Tampa was an odd choice at first, it soon made sense. Brady was now equipped with weapons. Young receivers like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin had made noise the previous season, combining for almost 2,500 yards and 17 touchdowns. The two were 1,000 yard receivers. New England only had one (Julian Edelman-1,117 yards in 2019). Tampa Bay receivers as a whole, had beaten New England's receivers statistically in 2019, despite posting a lower winning percentage. Buccaneer receivers had caught more passes (382 to New England's 378), more touchdowns (33 to 25), had a higher receiving yards per reception (13.4 to 11.0) and blew the Patriots away in total receiving yards (5,127 to 4,153).
The fun in Tampa would soon continue. On April 21, longtime Patriot tight end, Rob Gronkowski, would join his teammate and quarterback in Tampa, after the Patriots agreed to trade him. Gronkowski, often regarded as one of the best tight ends to play the game, had played with Brady for 9 seasons, catching over 500 passes and 79 touchdowns, while also capturing three Super Bowl championships. Brady now has not only an elite tight end, but someone with whom he is familiar with, and whose game complements him well.
While weapons are one thing for Brady, what about protection? One of the many things that has allowed Brady to play well into his forties is the fact that New England was able to build a stellar offensive line throughout his career. Tampa seems to have this locked in as well. With their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Tampa Bay selected tackle Tristan Wirfs, a guy who finished with the third highest grade among tackles (92.3). In his last year at Iowa, Wirfs allowed just seven pressures on a total of 461 snaps. The young Wirfs joins Donovan Smith, who has improved his overall grade in the last five seasons, and guard Ali Marpet who has ranked in the top 15 guards of the last five seasons. Brady has departed from a top 10 line in New England to a line that could very well be in that position in 2020.
Tom Brady looks to have a good future in Tampa, but what about his old contemporaries? New England, while losing its franchise quarterback after 20 years, has moved on just as quick as Brady has. While two big players now gone, two of the best non-players remain. Head coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft.
For now over 20 years in Foxborough, Belichick has proven to be the best defensive mind in football, as his Patriots have finished 1st in lowest points allowed five times, while also ranking among the best in total yards allowed. In 2019, New England finished first in both categories (14.1 points allowed/game, 275 yards allowed/game). In 2020, the Patriots are bringing back eight of those defensive starters, including stars like Devin McCourty (who signed a two-year extension), Jason McCourty, Pro Bowler Dont'a Hightower and All-Pro corner Stephon Gilmore.
On the offensive side of the ball, the question for the Patriots was how they would replace the legendary Brady, and deal with an average offense? That question was answered emphatically on July 8, when the Patriots signed former MVP quarterback Cam Newton to a one-year deal. Newton, formerly an All-Pro quarterback had been placed on IR by his former employer, the Carolina Panthers, in November of 2019, before ultimately being cut from the team in March. Working to get back in the league, the Patriots took notice, and signed Newton.
The signing originally brought skeptics. How would the colorful Newton mesh with the stern Belichick? The more the partnership is thought about, however, the scarier it seems. Newton and Belichick both seem to want to prove something. What is the best way to prove yourself in sports? You win.
With the brilliant mind of Bill Belichick coaching a different animal of a quarterback in Newton, it is hard to think the Patriots will lose too many games. New England still possesses a guy who can throw for 3,000 or 4,000 plus yards, like Brady, but now has an added weapon in Newton's running ability. The dual threat ability of Newton will surely add more offense to the Patriots attack, and with Newton's work ethic, he will surely fit into whatever system they place him in.
And so the stage is set on the upcoming NFL season. The soon to be 43-year-old Brady sets his sights on a new goal, a new challenge in Tampa, after leaving behind the greatest legacy a quarterback has ever laid out. Up north, his old colleagues in New England continue to build their dynasty without him, moving on and conducting business as usual. Both Tampa and New England have something to prove in the next year or two. Both realize there can only be one.